If I am unsure of a book, if I want to like it but the first few pages make me want to gnaw my face off, I give it ten percent. Figure out how many pages it has, divide by ten, and that’s how many pages I’ll give it to convince me that continuing is in any way worth it. I used to agree with the old librarian rule of reading your age (i.e. I’m 25, so I’d read 25 pages) but on shorter books, that proved silly. In this case, the book is 260 pages, I read to page 26. And I still hated it. But I kept reading, probably out of some sadistic need to end up hating myself, Palahniuk, everyone in the novel, and viewers like you.
This epistolary novel revolves around art-school-dropout Misty Marie Kleinman Wilmot and her fated existence among the chipped paint facades of Waytansea Island, located somewhere, it seems, in New Jersey. Appropriate for a hellish existence, New Jersey. There, she has been baited and lured, and now she hangs on the line as her life, and her previous lives, flash before her/our eyes.
The novel is not without merit. It’s intelligent and colorful and, if nothing else, proves that someone’s done their painting homework. But anything written in (even semi-) second person (i.e. addressing the reader as a character) as this is, can be jarring, unnerving and uncomfortable. It was like having an anxiety attack for three days straight.
Somewhere around page 200 I decided that I didn’t completely hate it, that it wasn’t just some sadistic need to be reading that kept me doing so, that there was something of me in it relating to the art. But as I reached the last few chapters, that vicious self-serving need to just finish the damn book took the wheel again. By the end, I felt like Peter Wilmot, sitting alone, gas tank empty, engine exhausted, poisoned by prose-y sleeping pills and fumes.
But the real kicker came when the story seemed over. On the last page of the book, Palahniuk does exactly what I loathe, exactly what Porter Grand did with Little Women and Werewolves by including the fictionalized publisher’s letter and exhibiting the novel as a previous version by Alcott. It’s a cop-out. Palahniuk’s work is far too intelligent to sink to that kind of nonsense. Better to end on an anxious high than sink in the finale with that kind of kick in the head that makes the psychological and kind of horrifying tone of the novel feel trivial and dull like hard plastic.